Making the Most of Aid to Pakistan

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States has provided about $10 billion in foreign aid to Pakistan. Rick Barton of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says the U.S. should be making more strategic use of the money it gives Pakistan.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And this weekend MORNING EDITION will learn about the tools the U.S. uses to influence friends and enemies abroad, and we start with Pakistan.

Since the September 11th attacks, the U.S. has given Pakistan about $10 billion in financial assistance. The Center for Strategic and International Studies arrived at that figure in a report it released recently.

Rick Barton led the team that wrote the report, so we asked him to break down where those billions in U.S. aid have actually gone.

Mr. RICK BARTON (Center for Strategic and International Studies): The majority of it is cash that's supposed to compensate the Pakistani government for sending its 80,000 or so soldiers up to the northwest frontier province and for providing help for our war in Afghanistan, but that is done essentially with a handshake agreement. So it's a cash payment which could be used for anything.

What we've found is that the Pakistani military has been using that money and the majority of our direct military assistance for the purchase of high-tech weaponry such as F16 fighters. It appears that the Pakistani military is continuing to arm more for its confrontation with India than it is for the war on terror because these weapons really don't have much application for the kinds of low-grade persistent Taliban fighters and al-Qaida fighters that you find in the northwest part of Pakistan.

MONTAGNE: But could it also be going towards personnel? Is there any suggestion that it's going into anybody's pockets?

Mr. BARTON: We have not made that suggestion, but clearly there are many, many people who are worried about official corruption in Pakistan. One of the key points that we make in our study is, is that we have to reestablish a whole new kind of relationship with Pakistan. We were away for 10 years, did almost nothing in the 1990s, as a result of their nuclear weapon development. But when we come back, we oftentimes come back because there's a crisis in Afghanistan. And this is a country that deserves a great deal of attention in its own right.

MONTAGNE: Pakistan.

Mr. BARTON: Pakistan is. And we haven't done that. So we've been in constant - we then flush them with money, then we head for the exits. None of those approaches really work.

MONTAGNE: If this American aid was going to compensate for the war on terror, what would it be doing?

Mr. BARTON: If we had a wise approach to the war on terror, we would have found ways to align ourselves more often with the Pakistani people. Because the only way you can deal with this kind of insurgency is to have the people on your side and to not have the people harboring the insurgents.

MONTAGNE: But your report does say that 10 percent of the aid over this last five years has been going for educational and humanitarian assistance. What has that bought?

Mr. BARTON: Well, the biggest single expense was in response to the Pakistan earthquake, where tens of thousands of people were killed. The U.S. gave direct humanitarian assistance and military assistance. And as a result, our standing in the country went from about 25 percent public support in Pakistan to well over 50 percent. None of these polls mean that much. But part of what we want to do as a country is to make it clear that we are on the side of the people, not just the powerful.

Our second largest area of expense is in education. But we're trying to do a million different things rather than focusing on particular areas where we might have higher impact. We heard in our work that what was really needed was a bucking up of the teacher force in the country, that the reason a lot of people send their children to Pakistan to madrassas is that the local public schools don't exist. Or if they do, teachers don't show up. And the number one reason they don't show up is they don't get paid.

MONTAGNE: And quickly, the madrassas are religious schools. And some of them are - or quite a number of them are considered quite radical.

Mr. BARTON: Exactly. There are people who fear that they are centers for formenting terrorism.

So if we could get the teacher force working in a constructive way in that country, you're probably going to reach the 50 percent of the population that's under 20. Now it starts to have a strategic sound to it.

MONTAGNE: Well, of course we're now in a situation where this is calls for the tap to be turned off. Should the U.S. be not just doing something different with the money but even be sending it at all under the circumstances?

Mr. BARTON: I think we should be smarter with it. We've tried to walk away before and conditions did not get better. We should look to the provinces. There are four provinces that are not particularly happy with the central government model. We should not be working through Islamabad all the time. I think we can have a constructive influence in this country and help them through a vital transition. If this transition does not go well, we have huge problems in the most populated part of the world. And that is not a good situation when three of the eight nuclear powers are also right there.

MONTAGNE: Rick Barton is with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. You can explore the history of U.S.-Pakistan relations at npr.org.

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